The overnight train from Bangkok left on time, and was comfortable and quiet, and we had some good sleep. We met a lovely English couple who were spending a short time in Thailand before going to Australia, so we filled their heads to overflowing with things to see while driving from Sydney to Cairns.
At 6.30am, Tom got off the train at Chaiya, where he would spend the next ten days in silent meditation. Jenny continued to Surat Thani, where she planned to get a a good night’s sleep in The Chic Hotel ($14 a night for hot water and air conditioning – looooxury!) before catching two buses to Suk Samran, in Ranong Province.
When Jenny got off the train, she discovered that Surat Thani train station is 12 km from Surat Thani. Fortunately, her Thai and a Thai gentleman’s English were sufficient for her to find out where to catch the bus to Surat Thani, and the bus went within a block of The Chic Hotel.
None of the staff at The Chic Hotel speak any English at all, so Jenny got instant immersion in the Thai language. She managed to explain that she didn’t have a booking, but she wanted a room for tonight, and they understood.
It was raining off and on in Surat Thani, but it was warm rain, and after the chill of eastern Europe it was luxurious to be able to get wet and then air dry in complete comfort.
Jenny managed to find the bus station and buy a ticket on the correct bus without speaking any English – the first bus was to the Takua Pa bus interchange on the west coast. It poured with rain for most of the journey, so it was difficult to photograph the spectacular mountains, but the rain stopped just before the bus reached Takua Pa.
The next bus was already waiting at Takua Pa, so Jenny only had time to gulp down a Pad Si Ew before the lext leg of the journey began.
It was a slightly anxious journey, because we hadn’t received any confirming reply to any of our text messages to our hosts in Ton Kloi – or it could have been an anxious journey, if Jenny was prone to anxiety, which she isn’t.
The bus broke down, and waited half an hour for a spare part to arrive, so the driver was in a tearing hurry to make up for lost time, and nearly took off from Suk Samran before Jenny had unloaded her backpack.
Finally in Suk Samran, Jenny called our hosts, and there was a bunch of Thai which Jenny couldn’t understand. After some time, Jenny got a call from their son in Koh Samui, who speaks some English. He said that Habsoh and Saandi were in Surat Thani (oh the irony – and in fact, we later learned that they were actually in Chaiya that day!), but that someone would come to get Jenny from the 7-11.
Eventually, a young woman with a very new baby in her arms climbed out of a utility and read from a piece of paper “I am from Ton Kloi”. She climbed into the back seat with the baby, Jenny hopped in, and a young man drove them to Habsoh and Saandi’s house – which was completely full of people!
Habsoh’s sister and her husband were there, and had clearly been there for some time, because the husband had bags of rice he was using as weights to do rehabilitation exercises four times per day rigged up with pulleys on one of the beams in the covered area. He looked as though he had had a stroke – one side was partially paralysed.
It turns out there is not one tiny baby, but two – twins! Nadeem and Nada were eight days old when Jenny arrived. Their three-year-old brother, Asary, and their mother, Ba, were also in residence, along with their aunt, Rosanna, and her husband, Moss. Plus regular residents Hareem (the seventeen-year-old son of Habsoh and Saandi) and Na (the one remaining of three orphans who were living here last time we visited).
So there were plenty of adults to help out with the baby care!
Jenny was a bit worried that she might be an extra headache that Habsoh didn’t need, what with the babies, the brother-in-law, and all the visiting family, but when Habsoh and Saandi arrived the next day, Habsoh reassured Jenny that there was plenty of room for her in the homestay bedroom.
As it turned out, Ba had to take the girl twin, Nada, back to the hospital for a couple of days, because she developed conjunctivitis, so Jenny got to be useful and help out looking after the boy twin, Nadeem.
When Ba and Nada came home, Jenny was able to help Ba with expressing milk using a hand pump – having all the experience of doing it with her own twins, eighteen years ago.
On the fourth day, the father of the twins arrived – Mahammad. He is Habsoh and Saandi’s oldest, and he studied English for a year at university. He looks so much like Hareem (or maybe Hareem looks like him, since Hareem is younger) that Jenny had to look very carefully before choosing which name to call either of them.
Mahammad and Jenny had a good chat over the weekend about the plans for homestay guests in Ton Kloi. If there are enough homestay guests, Mahammad can stay at home and work for the homestay business, instead of working on Koh Samui.
We decided that Hareem would be the replacement translator, since Mass, who brought us to Ton Kloi in the first place, did a midnight flit with a woman who turned up on a motorcycle, and was in such a rush to escape that he even left behind some clothes and his toothbrush! Mass is off the team, but we still need someone to speak English.
Mahammad went off to talk to the rest of the family about the plan. After deliberation, they all agreed. Mahammad came back to Jenny and said “We start tomorrow.”
So, the next day we had the first official English lesson in Ton Kloi! It had been long time coming …
And the day after, Mahammad told Jenny there had been a change of plan. It was unthinkable that Ba be the lone adult caring for three small children all day while Mahammad was at work (Did you hear that, Western Civilisation? Unthinkable to leave a lone woman to care for three small children alone all day while her husband is at work. Unthinkable,) so Hareem would have to go to Koh Samui with the young family to help Ba with the children.
Which meant that Habsoh would need to bite the bullet and learn English. It made sense, really. She is the hostess, and she is always in Ton Kloi, whereas young men could flit off in search of income at any moment, as so many others already have. She had just been hoping that there would be someone else to translate, so that she didn’t have to learn English herself.
Jenny expected that Habsoh would want to spend the last day with her grandchildren, but Habsoh came to Jenny with the notes Mahammad and Hareem had made during the first English lesson, and wanted them explained. It’s always nice to have an enthusiastic class – even if it is a class of one.
The next morning, the young family loaded up Mahammad’s utility. Life may be simpler in a Thai village, but you still seem to need a huge amount of stuff to care for the smallest of human beings!
It was a sad day, because nobody wanted Mahammad and his family to leave. It was only money that drive him to seek work in a tourist area. It seems crazy that the money economy takes such a huge toll on human relationships, and tragic that the hungry ghost that is the money economy has reached its tentacles even into this small traditional Thai village.
It was still the rainy season when Jenny arrived, and Moss had to get out with the hoe one day to avert a flood in the house. Jenny was thinking she might wash her hair at the swimming hole, until they crossed a bridge one day and she saw the muddy brown torrent that the river becomes in the wet season. Maybe not on the hair washing!
For some reason, the rainy season decided to stop, like someone turned off a tap, two days before Tom was due to arrive from Chaiya. It would still rain occasionally after the turning point, but it was just a brief tropical shower, not a days-long torrent.
The day before Tom was due to arrive was the first day Habsoh and Na went down to the swimming hole with the inner tubes and inflatable rings that the family hires out for extra cash. After only 24 hours without rain, the muddy brown water had already cleared to a stunning blue-green, and the swimming hole was breathtakingly beautiful.
Jenny, Habsoh and Na spent the day doing English lessons, with the occasional break to hire a ring, eat some food, or pet the kitten.
It was such a peaceful place to be, even with the water level high and the current flowing fast, that Jenny began to think that maybe, just maybe, this whole homestay thing might work out after all.
We do what we can, and leave the rest in God’s hands.